The Portland Pilots are heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 26 years after they upset the Gonzaga Bulldogs, earning an automatic bid in the WCC Tournament Championship.
After a commanding second quarter, it looked like the Zags were on their way to an easy win. The Pilots had different plans, coming back from a 11 point deficit at halftime with a huge third quarter that left the Zags dazed and confused.
Until that point, it seemed as if the Zags had the Pilots figured out. Alex Fowler, the Pilots’ leading scorer with 17 points per game, had zero points at halftime. The Pilots were held to just 29 percent from the floor in the first half. Kaylynne Truong and Yvonne Ejim were putting up points as they willed. Whatever went down in the Portland locker room at halftime definitely resonated, because the Pilots completely shifted the narrative in the third quarter.
Fowler was able to break free, dropping eight points, and Maisie Burnham had an afternoon for the ages, scoring 11 of her 19 points in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Zags turned the ball over nine times, leading to 19 (!!!) Portland points off turnovers. As much as the second quarter was all Gonzaga all the time, the third quarter was the Pilots on all aspects of the game. The Pilots led 48-46 going into the final quarter.
The Pilots’ good fortune slowed a bit down from the field in the fourth quarter, thankfully for Gonzaga, and Kaylynne Truong was able to hit a huge three pointer to cut the deficit to three points with two minutes remaining. Yvonne Ejim iced a couple of free throws to bring the Zags within one point with just over one minute remaining. A steal by Kayleigh Truong led to Ejim’s 21st point and the Zags took a one-point lead off a 9-0 run with 39 seconds remaining.
Fowler clamped down on the bleeding, hitting an and-one to give Portland the two-point lead. An incredibly tough charge call on Ejim wiped out the Zags final possession, giving Portland the ball with 26 seconds left. McKelle Meek would hit the late game free throws to put the score into two possessions and the Pilots would take it from there.
It was a disappointing end for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, but one that shouldn’t matter too much. The most recent ESPN Bracketology had the Zags as a No. 8 seed, whose reward for winning the first game would be a contest against South Carolina. No thanks.
Meanwhile, the automatic bid goes to the Pilots, who honestly deserve another crack at the NCAA Tournament. The Pilots upset the Zags in 2020 to earn their first bid to the big dance in 23 years. That tournament would end up being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.